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Obama promises Netanyahu that he will be 'clear-eyed' in talks with Iran

Israel’s prime minister has called on the US to maintain pressure on Iran, despite what he described as "sweet talk" from Tehran. This comes days after the first conversation between US and Iranian leaders in decades.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday to call on him to keep the current economic sanctions in place, despite what may be the start of a thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran.

"If diplomacy is to work, those pressures must be kept in place," Netanyahu said as the two leaders met in front of the media in the Oval Office.

"In fact, if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened," Netanyahu added, referring to the resumption of talks between Iran and the P5 +1 group, made up of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, scheduled for October 15 in Geneva.

President Obama sought to reassure the Israeli prime minister that "we enter into these negotiations very clear-eyed."

At the same time, though, Obama, whose relations with Netanyahu have at times been strained, asserted that the West needed to "test diplomacy," in efforts to get Tehran to come clean on its nuclear program.

Obama's meeting with Netanyahu came just days after the US president spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani via telephone, the first conversation between leaders of the two countries in more than 30 years.

During that conversation, Rouhani reiterated Iran's assertion that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. However, the US and its Western allies fear Iran may be using its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons. Next month's negotiations are to be about finding ways for Tehran to provide sufficient proof about its peaceful intentions, for the US and others to drop the long-standing economic sanctions against Iran.

President Obama said that while he was determined to pursue diplomacy on Iran, the upcoming negotiations would not be easy and "anything that we do will require the highest standards of verification in order for us to provide the sort of sanctions relief that I think they are looking for."

Other subjects of concern

The two leaders also used their meeting to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria and the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which US Secretary of State John Kerry helped relaunch over the summer.

Obama praised Netanyahu for his "courage" in entering the negotiations. Netanyahu said he hoped the talks would produce an "historic transformation" in relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

pfd/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)